Daily Media Links 11/19

November 19, 2019   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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Online Speech Platforms 

Vox (Recode): Facebook still isn’t clear about why it won’t take down false political ads

By Emily Stewart

On Monday, one of Facebook’s top marketers again defended the policy and said the company has no plans to change it, insisting that it’s up to voters to decide what messages resonate and are true, even if they’re false.

“That’s not a role that Facebook should be playing and interfering with democracy,” said said Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions at Facebook, in an interview with Recode’s Peter Kafka at the 2019 Code Media conference in Los Angeles on Monday…

Facebook has bent its rules on this one already: When progressive marketer Adriel Hampton filed to run for California governor earlier this year so he could run fake ads on Facebook, the company shut him down because they said it was a ploy.

Some have floated the idea that one potential solution would be for Facebook to consider limiting political ad targeting, which Twitter recently said it plans to do with regard to issue ads. (At the end of the week, Twitter will ban political ads entirely.) When asked by Kafka for updates on that front, Everson said that’s actually not on the table. “We are not talking about changing the targeting,” she said.

Soon after the interview, Everson told Axios reporter Sara Fischer that she shouldn’t have been so definitive and that nothing is off the table for Facebook…

Everson reminded the audience of a scandal that unfolded earlier this year around a doctored video that spread online that misleadingly made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear to be drunk…

“If you’re going to take the Pelosi video down, then why not take down the millions of videos that have been doctored about Trump, about Bush, about Obama, about celebrities? We haven’t,” Everson told Kafka.

CNBC: Snapchat fact-checks political ads, unlike Facebook, says CEO Evan Spiegel

By William Feuer

As pressure mounts on Big Tech companies to address the spread of misinformation, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said Monday that his company fact-checks all political advertising…

Snapchat has a team to fact-check all political advertising on the platform, Spiegel says.

“We subject all advertising to review, including political advertising,” he said Monday. “And I think what we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don’t allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising.”

He compared Snap’s policy on political ads to cable TV. “That might be more similar to cable rather than broadcast,” he said…

Snapchat’s advertising business is substantially smaller than that of Facebook and Google, but the photo-sharing business experienced 50% growth in advertising during the third-quarter this year to $446 million.

Bloomberg: Real News: Hardly Anybody Shares Fake News

By Faye Flam

There’s a good reason not to ban political ads on social media: People in democratic societies should be able to see and hear from candidates directly, not just through interview and debate formats. Social media ads are relatively cheap, so less well-funded candidates can still make themselves heard…

There’s little evidence that targeted ads have the power to to change minds or votes, says Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, co-author of the book “Network Propaganda.”…

In 2018, there was outrage when it came out that the company Cambridge Analytica claimed it could use the seemingly superficial tastes of consumers to delve deep into their psyches, gain personality information that even their friends didn’t know, and, in theory, use it to manipulate their voting behavior. But in researching a 2018 column on the phenomenon, I learned that the evidence is thin to nonexistent that Cambridge Analytica was able to glean meaningful information or manipulate voting behavior…

Other research papers report on the limited power of fake news on Facebook and Twitter. For example, one study that looked at Twitter activity during the 2016 election concluded that 80% of fake news was shared by just 0.1% of users, making it a fringe activity.

People tend to focus on new threats, Benkler says, when there are known masters of manipulation out there. The ads, fake news, and other so-called content on social media have been getting a lot of attention, but their impact still pales in comparison to that of old-fashioned platforms like cable news and radio…

It’s true that there’s still a lot we don’t know about social media. But instead of giving Facebook more power – by encouraging it to police ads for misleading content – we should make rules to force the company to reveal its targeting practices.

SEC

Brennan Center: A Trump Administration Plan that Could Boost Corporate ‘Dark Money’ in Elections

By Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

The Trump administration is pushing a proposal that could change how much untraceable “dark money” corporations pour into future elections.

The draft rule change was unveiled by the Securities and Exchange Commission this month. It would limit shareholder proposals, which are one of the ways that the stockowners of publicly traded companies get them to change their behavior…

Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which allows corporations to spend an unlimited amount in elections, shareholders have used their proposal power to demand an end to dark money in elections from corporations. Shareholders have also asked for better transparency about corporate spending on lobbying, as well as better stances on climate change and sustainability…

Because of these shareholder efforts on dark money, led by the advocates at the Center for Political Accountability, over half of the S&P 500 companies have become more transparent about their political spending, including their lobbying. Another factor in their success has been proxy advisors – firms that suggest how institutional investors should vote on shareholder proposals – who have also embraced ending corporate dark money.

But all of that progress could come to a screeching halt if the Trump administration’s proposed rule change is adopted, because it would make it much harder for retail investors to make shareholder proposals…

The rule also makes the requirements for relisting a shareholder proposal more strict, thereby making them less likely…

And at the same time the, the SEC is pushing a rule change for proxy advisors… The new proposed rule would require proxy advisors to give target companies the right to review the advisors’ reports before they are sent to investors.

FEC

Politico: De Blasio campaign spending raises FEC concerns – again

By Sally Goldenberg and Joe Anuta

Mayor Bill de Blasio used his political action committee to pay for presidential polling ahead of his short-lived White House run and did not reimburse in the required time frame, according to a new letter from the Federal Election Commission.

The Fairness PAC – which was ostensibly set up to benefit other candidates around the country – spent $123,000 on polling in the run-up to de Blasio’s presidential announcement. Election law required the mayor’s camp to reimburse the PAC for these expenses within 30 days of announcing his run. However, the de Blasio team blew the deadline, according to a letter sent by the FEC this week.

That means the PAC appears to have run afoul of campaign finance rules that require a full accounting of a candidate’s exploratory expenses.

The $123,000 reimbursement “appears to be more than 30 days from when the candidate filed statement of candidacy,” the FEC wrote to Fairness PAC treasurer Richard Buery, a former deputy mayor.

The FEC letter informed Buery that the funds exceeded the $5,000 limit on how much a PAC can receive from another political committee or person in a given year, and required the campaign to submit a corrective action plan by late December. The letter also warned of possible “further legal action regarding the acceptance of an excessive contribution.”…

The PAC’s corrective action plan could entail returning the money to the campaign. That would essentially recreate the improper situation detailed in a July POLITICO report – the first of several stories about the unusual setup of the mayor’s fundraising apparatus.

In addition, a pair of watchdog groups have filed complaints over the relationship between the campaign, the federal PAC and a state PAC de Blasio quietly created. One of those complaints alleges the mayor accepted contributions above the legal limit by routing them through the PACs.

Sunday’s letter is the second sent by the FEC to either the PAC or the presidential campaign requesting corrective actions to their filings.

Candidates and Campaigns 

Harvard Business School: Do TV Debates Sway Voters?

By Danielle Kost

[D]ebates have only a negligible effect on voters’ candidate choice, according to new research from Harvard Business School. In fact, 72 percent of voters make up their minds more than two months before the election, often before candidates square off. And those who shift to a different candidate closer to the election don’t do it following TV debates…

“It is difficult for candidates to change people’s minds, and this does not happen on TV or the radio,” Pons and Le Pennec-Caldichoury write in a working paper released last month, Vote Choice Formation and the Minimal Effects of TV Debates: Evidence from 61 Elections in 9 OECD Countries

Even in a high tech world, the best place to change the minds of voters, especially disenchanted voters, is on their doorsteps, Pons says.

Voters who dismiss the canned responses of a well-groomed candidate might listen to an activist from the same town or a similar background. And the fact that these canvassers tend to be unpaid volunteers makes these conversations even more meaningful.

“The discussions that voters and canvassers have on doorsteps are very personal,” says Pons, whose past research found that even a five-minute conversation can convince a voter to support a different candidate. “They’re a very effective way to mobilize nonvoters and persuade those who are undecided.”

Given the importance of a campaign’s ground game, Pons says that governments should consider ways to improve the quality of information that voters receive. That might involve setting campaign finance regulations that level the playing field and give candidates equal access to voters, and monitoring the accuracy of handouts and social media posts that campaigns share.

“It’s important to make sure that all campaigns are able to get their message out through these powerful channels,” Pons says.

Washington Times: ‘Dark money’ ad raises questions over Peters campaign for Senate

By Ryan Lovelace

The Peters campaign webpage, “What Michiganders Need to Know” posted over the summer and on Nov. 1 several photos, videos, and links to text about Mr. Peters’ record and his service in the U.S. Navy Reserve reappeared in the ad.

Later in November, VoteVets announced a $750,000 ad buy in support of Mr. Peters, including a television ad that uses identical photos and videos from the campaign’s webpage. The script read by a narrator in the 30-second VoteVets spot also nearly mirrors text appearing in black banners in documents posted to the campaign’s website.

After reviewing this material, campaign finance and election law attorney Jessica Furst Johnson told The Washington Times that Mr. Peters had definitely gone “over the line.”…

“It’s very difficult to look at that [material] and see that was not a suggested communication,” Ms. Furst Johnson said of the Peters campaign website. “It’s pretty clear to me that this is more than just a research book or a [fact sheet], this is a request to run this specific ad.”

The Campaign Legal Center’s Erin Chlopak, however, said she thought the Peters campaign’s actions may not have violated the law but were constructed to exploit the rules governing campaign finance.

“I think it’s just another example of the lax nature of our coordination rules,” Ms. Chlopak said. “It’s a loophole that candidates across the political spectrum exploit, legally.” …

“This is publicly available to anyone who wants the facts on Gary’s effective record for Michigan,” said Dan Farough, Mr. Peters campaign manager, in a statement. “Outside special interests – largely funded by one out-of-state billionaire – are already misleading Michiganders with false attacks.”

Washington Free Beacon: Mark Kelly Receives Thousands of Dollars Through Corporate PAC Loophole

By Cameron Cawthorne

Arizona Senate candidate Mark Kelly (D.) has pledged not to accept donations from corporate PACs but received tens of thousands of dollars from Democratic leadership PACs heavily funded by corporate entities.

Kelly, who faced scrutiny earlier this year for financially benefiting from corporate speaking gigs, received more than $55,000 from Democratic leadership PACs financially backed by corporate entities during the third quarter, according to his campaign’s most recent filing.

“I think Washington, D.C., is failing the state of Arizona on these things, and there’s structural problems with the way our system is set up,” Kelly said during a Fox 10 interview in early November. “As an example, corporate PAC money in our political system makes it so hard for people to get elected to Congress to do what they think is right instead of doing what some company wants. That’s why I’m not taking corporate PAC money.”

Kelly sent out several tweets from his official Twitter account over the last few months criticizing corporate PACs, calling them “one of the biggest problems in our politics today.”…

Since announcing his candidacy, Kelly’s campaign has received more than $140,000 from leadership PACs, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D., N.Y.) Impact PAC, which is funded by corporate PAC donations from Facebook, Bank of America, Delta Air Lines, Google, and Goldman Sachs…

The Washington Free Beacon reported in July that Kelly made over $1.8 million in speaking fees dating back 18 months. He has delivered 12 speeches since his campaign launched, making $290,400. Some of the corporate speaking gigs were sponsored by Goldman Sachs, Optum, and the Mortgage Bankers Association, according to the Intercept.

The States

Orange County Register: Does the FPPC help voters or those in power?

By Susan Shelley

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is about to fine Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, for violating the law when he moved nearly $300,000 in leftover funds from his 2018 Assembly campaign to a 2020 re-election committee even though he wasn’t really running for re-election, then used the money in ways that supported his 2020 campaign for mayor of San Diego.

Total proposed fine: $200…

In 2016, Consumer Watchdog filed a sworn complaint with the FPPC alleging that millions of dollars in political contributions from energy companies, including the investor-owned utilities such as PG&E, were being laundered through the California Democratic Party to evade contribution limits to campaigns and to influence decisions made by the Brown administration…

Here’s how that case, No. 16/19635, turned out: the FPPC determined that the California Democratic Party and its treasurer “failed to identify the committee bank account as ‘all purpose,’ failed to notify a recipient of contributions from which account the funds derived, and failed to deposit contributions into the correct account.” Total fine: $3,500…

As you know, I have more than a passing interest in this subject. Last month, the FPPC approved a fine against me for what they acknowledge is the unintentional late filing of some pre-election reports in a 2013 special election for the Assembly, when I was a first-time state candidate with an all-volunteer campaign. Although the Enforcement Division wrote in 2017 that my campaign had “substantially complied” with the law, that I had made a good-faith effort throughout, and that there was no evidence of intent to conceal or deceive, the commission approved a fine of $11,500.

WBFO Buffalo NPR: Concern rises over direction of state public campaign finance commission

By Karen Dewitt

Key commissioners appointed by Cuomo are backing individual contribution limits for candidates of up to $25,000, which would be among the highest in the nation…

Dave Palmer with the Fair Elections Coalition, made up of over 200 groups, says the proposal defeats the purpose of a system intended to encourage small donations from members of the public who are not wealthy…

Alex Camarda with Reinvent Albany said in effect, the public would be asked to help subsidize the big-money donors, because the first $250 of even the largest donations would be matched by public funds by at least a 6-to-1 ratio.

“It’s outrageous that a candidate could raise $25,000 contributions, and taxpayers would have to kick in $1,500 or even $2,300 on large contributions,” Camarda said. “That is unacceptable.”

Cuomo appointee Jay Jacobs supports the $25,000 contribution limit for donors…

He said his critics are not being realistic, because under rules established by the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United, donors who face contribution limits can just open independent expenditure committees, also known as Super PACs, to influence campaigns…

Palmer said Jacobs is overstating the potential problem. He said independent expenditure groups, or IEs, have been rarely used in state races.

“Ultimately, increasing the value of small donations is the single best response to IEs because it enables people to raise enough money on small donations so that they can be heard,” Palmer said. “Whether or not they raise as much as an IE is spending, it’s enough to be heard and allow the people to decide who the best candidate is.” …

The nine-member commission also supports allowing candidates to hold on to multimillion-dollar campaign war chests from previous elections while collecting public matching funds for portions of any new money that they raise.

SF Gate: City Settles With ‘Supergirl’ Over Unpermitted City Hall Protests

By Bay City News Service

The city of San Francisco will pay a woman known as “Supergirl” $13,000 as part of a settlement in a First Amendment lawsuit she filed more than a year ago, her attorney announced Monday.

Shawn Sunshine Strickland, a transgender woman known for regularly donning a Superwoman costume, initially filed the suit in federal court in San Francisco in September 2018, alleging that sheriff’s deputies violated her First Amendment rights when they stopped her from holding a peaceful protest on the front steps of City Hall.

Strickland said she was trying to protest an injustice she said she suffered following a transphobic attack, but the deputies at City Hall told her she needed to obtain a permit for the demonstration…

The lawsuit sought a federal injunction to allow protests held by individuals and small groups, as well as time-sensitive protests spurred by breaking news, to take place at City Hall’s steps without having to obtain a permit beforehand.

In addition to settling the lawsuit, earlier this year the city also revised its policy regarding protests taking place on the steps of City Hall. Under the new policy, which took effect in October, a permit is not needed for individuals or groups with less than 10 people.

Furthermore, the new policy allows for groups of up to 150 people to assemble on the steps without a permit in response to news or a recent event that has happened less than 48 hours prior.

WABE Atlanta NPR: State Ethics Commission Sues Abrams Campaign For Withholding Emails

By Emma Hurt

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly the state Ethics Commission, filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court on Friday against Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign and two other groups tied to Abrams for failing to fully comply with subpoenas for certain documents last spring.

Former campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said the campaign turned in thousands of pages of banking and campaign finance records but refused to release communications requested between the campaign and other groups, including the New Georgia Project and state Sen. Nikema Williams, then vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“The commission is responsible for campaign finance law here in Georgia. They’re able to investigate campaigns,” she said. “What they’re not able to do is use their power to investigate, to harass, to intimidate and go, on a hunch, that they think a thing may have happened…this commission is in violation of its fundamental right to enforce campaign finance law and is acting as a political arm of the governor’s campaign.”

She called the investigation a “political fishing expedition” due to the executive director of the commission David Emadi’s previous endorsement of Gov. Brian Kemp. Emadi also donated to Kemp’s campaign…

The Fulton County Superior Court filing says that Charles T. Wingo filed a complaint with the commission in August 2018, alleging “unlawful coordination” by sharing personnel between the Abrams campaign and the B.L.U.E. Institute, which was founded by Abrams to recruit people of color to political campaign staff.

The document also states the commission “has reason to believe” that a donation to the New Georgia Project was used throughout the 2018 election “to make independent expenditures that expressly advocated election or defeat of Stacey Abrams.” Abrams also founded and ran the New Georgia Project, aimed at registering minorities to vote. The motion states the “crux of the investigation” is whether the Abrams campaign itself coordinated with the New Georgia Project about these alleged expenditures.

 

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly